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23 Apr 14

"“The Myth of Persecution”: Early Christians weren’t persecuted
The Romans did not target, hunt or massacre Jesus' followers, says a historian of the early church
Laura Miller Follow

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Topics: Editor's Picks, What to Read, Nonfiction, Christianity, The Myth of Persecution, Entertainment News
"The Myth of Persecution": Early Christians weren't persecuted

In the immediate aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, a modern myth was born. A story went around that one of the two killers asked one of the victims, Cassie Bernall, if she believed in God. Bernall reportedly said “Yes” just before he shot her. Bernall’s mother wrote a memoir, titled “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall,” a tribute to her daughter’s courageous Christian faith. Then, just as the book was being published, a student who was hiding near Bernall told journalist Dave Cullen that the exchange never happened.

Although Candida Moss’ new book, “The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” is about the three centuries following the death of Jesus, she makes a point of citing this modern-day parallel. What Bernall truly said and did in the moments before her death absolutely matters, Moss asserts, if we are going to hold her up as a “martyr.” Yet misconceptions and misrepresentations can creep in so soon. The public can get the story wrong even in this highly mediated and thoroughly reported age — and do so despite the presence among us of living eyewitnesses. So what, then, to make of the third-hand, heavily revised, agenda-laden and anachronistic accounts of Christianity’s original martyrs?

Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, challenges some of the most hallowed legends of the religion when she questions what she calls “the Sunday school narrative of a church of martyrs, of Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs.” None of that, she maintains, is true. In the 300 years between the death of Jesus and the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, there were maybe 10 or 12 scattered years during which Christians were singled out for supression by Rome’s imperial authorities, and even then the enforcement of such initiatives was haphazard — lackadaisical in many regions, although harsh in others. “Christians were never,” Moss writes, “the victims of sustained, targeted persecution.”"

22 Apr 14

"Beginning at sundown on April 14, many Jews will be observing Passover at a Seder, the special meal that commemorates their ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. The book that guides the ritual is the haggadah. The Sarajevo Haggadah, named for the Bosnian city where it is kept, is a rare, beautifully illustrated manuscript created more than 600 years ago in Spain, and many see its own story as a compelling symbol of the Exodus. “It went through so many different cultures,” observes composer Merima Kljuco, “and so many different people took care of the book and helped it survive.”
Related Reading

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Medieval Haggadah by Marc Michael Epstein

Related Links

Merima Kljuco: Concert Accordionist"

22 Apr 14

"Egypt is by far the most anti-Semitic country I’ve ever visited. It’s off the charts even compared with the rest of the region.
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Everyone who posseses even a passing familiarity with Egyptian politics knows this is a serious problem, but the reasons why aren’t as widely understood as they should be. The three main theories—that Egypt’s Jewish problem is a result of the Islamic religion, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and state propaganda to deflect anger away from the government—are partly correct, but they don’t adequately explain what’s actually happening. There are other deeper reasons that should be more widely known than they are.

Egyptian scholar Samuel Tadros, whose book Motherland Lost I reviewed last year for the Wall Street Journal, gets down to the nuts and bolts in The American Interest.

His essay is long and complex, so be sure to read the whole thing. Here is but a taste."

22 Apr 14

"British Pathé, the newsreel maker which documented all walks of life on video during the 20th Century, has uploaded its entire collection of moving images to YouTube.

The archive of 3,500 hours of footage was digitised in 2002 thanks in part to a grant from the National Lottery, and is now freely accessible to anyone around the world for free."

22 Apr 14

"Last December, an unsettling Nature Neuroscience study found that mice who were taught to associate the smell of cherry blossoms with pain produced offspring who feared the smell of cherry blossoms, even if they had never been exposed to it before. We knew that the process was epigenetic—that it was not hard-wired in the permanent genetic structure of the mouse—but we didn’t know exactly how it worked.

Earlier this week, a followup Nature Neuroscience study more clearly traced this sort of inherited trauma with RNA interference, and specifically with microRNA found in the sperm of mice. This trippy (and slightly disturbing) computer-animated video explains how RNA interference works, and the way microRNA fits into that process:"

22 Apr 14

"A newborn mouse pup, seemingly innocent to the workings of the world, may actually harbor generations’ worth of information passed down by its ancestors.

In the experiment, researchers taught male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms by associating the scent with mild foot shocks. Two weeks later, they bred with females. The resulting pups were raised to adulthood having never been exposed to the smell.

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Yet when the critters caught a whiff of it for the first time, they suddenly became anxious and fearful. They were even born with more cherry-blossom-detecting neurons in their noses and more brain space devoted to cherry-blossom-smelling.

The memory transmission extended out another generation when these male mice bred, and similar results were found.

Neuroscientists at Emory University found that genetic markers, thought to be wiped clean before birth, were used to transmit a single traumatic experience across generations, leaving behind traces in the behavior and anatomy of future pups.

The study, published online Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, adds to a growing pile of evidence suggesting that characteristics outside of the strict genetic code may also be acquired from our parents through epigenetic inheritance. Epigenetics studies how molecules act as DNA markers that influence how the genome is read."

22 Apr 14

"Yesterday the folks over at Vox published an article arguing that generations should be defined by the technology they use, rather than by age. They included a graph that purported to show how American society is "adopting new technology more quickly than ever before." The graph is garbage. And here's why.

[Update: It looks like Vox has heavily edited their original story by creating a new lede, referencing research by the FCC and Pew Research, and correcting factual errors like their conflation of the invention of the internet with the invention of the web. They've also swapped out their original "Technology Adoption" graph with a new one and added an additional graph with data from the FCC. None of these edits are noted in the piece. But they appear to be sticking with their original argument anyway, so the critique below still stands.]

Vox's graph is supposed to show how quickly different technologies like radio and the internet were adopted. They looked at the number of years it took those things to go from being invented to being used by 25 percent of the U.S. population. First off, this is a terrible way to understand the influence of technology on American society. But let's play along for a moment anyway, shall we?"

22 Apr 14

"A new poll confirms what has long been true: A majority of Americans aren't convinced the Big Bang is a scientific fact.
Alexis C. Madrigal Apr 21 2014, 1:39 PM ET

A majority of Americans don't believe in even the most fundamental discovery of 20th century physics, which 99.9 percent of members of the National Academies of Sciences do: that our universe began with an enormous explosion, the Big Bang.

51 percent of people in a new AP/GFK poll said they were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that the statement "the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang" was correct.

In fact, fewer Americans were confident in that statement that any other on the list, which covered topics like vaccines, evolution, and the Earth’s age.

22 Apr 14

"Recent research on the Cohen Y chromosome indicates the Jewish priesthood, the Cohanim, was established by several unrelated male lines rather than a single male lineage dating to ancient Hebrew times.

The new research builds on a decade-old study of the Jewish priesthood that traced its patrilineal dynasty and seemed to substantiate the biblical story that Aaron, the first high priest (and brother of Moses), was one of a number of common male ancestors in the Cohanim lineage who lived some 3,200 years ago in the Near East.

The current study was conducted by Michael F. Hammer, a population geneticist in the Arizona Research Laboratory's Division of Biotechnology at the University of Arizona. Hammer's collaborators in the study include Karl Skorecki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambum Medical Center in Haifa and colleagues and collaborating scientists from Tel Aviv University and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The July 2009 issue of Human Genetics has published the Hammer team's newest findings in their article entitled "Extended Y chromosome haplotypes resolve multiple and unique lineages of the Jewish priesthood.""

22 Apr 14

defends Catholic identity, cites authorities in history and science to argue against crypto-Jewish theory etc.

22 Apr 14

"More than just a tool for predicting health, modern genetics is upending long-held assumptions about who we are. A new study by Harvard researchers casts new light on the intermingling and migration of European, Middle Eastern and African and populations since ancient times.

In a paper titled "The History of African Gene Flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines and Jews," published in PLoS Genetics, HMS Associate Professor of Genetics David Reich and his colleagues investigated the proportion of sub-Saharan African ancestry present in various populations in West Eurasia, defined as the geographic area spanning modern Europe and the Middle East. While previous studies have established that such shared ancestry exists, they have not indicated to what degree or how far back the mixing of populations can be traced.

Analyzing publicly available genetic data from 40 populations comprising North Africans, Middle Easterners and Central Asians were doctoral student Priya Moorjani and Alkes Price, an assistant professor in the Program in Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology within the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Moorjani traced genetic ancestry using a method called rolloff. This platform, developed in the Reich lab, compares the size and composition of stretches of DNA between two human populations as a means of estimating when they mixed. The smaller and more broken up the DNA segments, the older the date of mixture.

Moorjani used the technique to examine the genomes of modern West Eurasian populations to find signatures of Sub-Saharan African ancestry. She did this by looking for chromosomal segments in West Eurasian DNA that closely matched those of Sub-Saharan Africans. By plotting the distribution of these segments and estimating their rate of genetic decay, Reich's lab was able to determine the proportion of African genetic ancestry still present, and to infer approximately when the West Eurasian and Sub-Saharan African populations mixed.

"The genetic decay happens very slowly," Moorjani explained, "so today, thousands of years later, there is enough evidence for us to estimate the date of population mixture."

While the researchers detected no African genetic signatures in Northern European populations, they found a distinct presence of African ancestry in Southern European, Middle Eastern and Jewish populations. Modern southern European groups can attribute about 1 to 3 percent of their genetic signature to African ancestry, with the intermingling of populations dating back 55 generations, on average -- that is, to roughly 1,600 years ago. Middle Eastern groups have inherited about 4 to 15 percent, with the mixing of populations dating back roughly 32 generations. A diverse array of Jewish populations can date their Sub-Saharan African ancestry back roughly 72 generations, on average, accounting for 3 to 5 percent of their genetic makeup today.

According to Reich, these findings address a long-standing debate over African multicultural influences in Europe. The dates of population mixtures are consistent with documented historical events. For example, the mixing of African and southern European populations coincides with events during the Roman Empire and Arab migrations that followed. The older-mixture dates among African and Jewish populations are consistent with events in biblical times, such as the Jewish diaspora that occurred in 8th to 6th century BC.

"Our study doesn't prove that the African ancestry is associated with migrations associated with events in the Bible documented by archeologists," Reich says, "but it's interesting to speculate."

Reich was surprised to see any level of shared ancestry between the Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish groups. "I've never been convinced they were actually related to each other," Reich says, but he now concludes that his lab's findings have significant cultural and genetic implications. "Population boundaries that many people think are impermeable are, in fact, not that way.""

22 Apr 14

"Extended Y chromosome haplotypes resolve multiple and unique
lineages of the Jewish priesthood
Michael F. Hammer · Doron M. Behar · Tatiana M. Karafet · Fernando L. Mendez ·
Brian Hallmark · Tamar Erez · Lev A. Zhiv
otovsky · Saharon Rosset · Karl Skorecki "

22 Apr 14

" There are many articles on Sephardic DNA, but the purpose of this brief discussion is to describe three recent research projects about crypto-Jewish DNA:

(1) “The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula.” The American Journal of Human Genetics, 83, 725-736, December 12, 2008, Susan M. Adams and others. This article is based on analyses of the Y chromosome (male) DNA of 1,140 males from the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands (Spain, n=849; Portugal, n=138; islands=153). Following the male line backwards, 19.8% of these males in contemporary Iberia, mostly Catholic today, have a Sephardic Jewish ancestry. Another 10.6% have a North African (mostly Berber or Arabic) ancestry.

This is the article of which Michael Freund wrote that “a team of biologists dropped a DNA bombshell,” and that these “are not the wild-eyed speculations of a newspaper columnist, but rather cold, hard results straight out of a petri dish in a laboratory” (2009, p. 10).

There are some regional variations within Iberia. For example, in Asturias (with a small sample) 45.2% of the men had a Jewish DNA pattern, in southern Portugal, 36.3%, Aragon, 35.8%, Ibiza, 33.0%, and Extremadura, 28.7%. On the other hand, northeastern Castile, Catalonia, Gascony, and Minorca had low percentages, under 10%. Other examples, close to the overall average, include Majorca, 21.5%, northern Portugal, 23.6%, and Andalucia, 23.6%. Other results were eastern Andalucia, 17.6%, Castilla la Mancha, 18.0%, northwestern Castile, 12.9%, Galicia, 16.9%, and Valencia, 15.1%. Future research will find even more variations in different locations both in and outside Iberian, but the overall conclusion is that one in five Hispanic males is from a Jewish ancestry on the direct male line. Some of these genetic findings resulted from voluntary interactions, but undoubtedly many (and probably most) are the result of the forced assimilation during the Inquisitions.

It also should be noted that much less, but still a noticeable amount, of assimilation went the other way, i.e., that men of originally non-Semitic ancestry and their descendants also became Jewish. During parts of convivencia, with “a mixture of Islam, Mesopotamian Sufi mysticism, and a healthy dose of syncretism in harmony with Christian and Jewish spirituality,” interactions went both ways (Juan Garcia Atienza, The Knights Templar in the Golden Age of Spain: Their Hidden History on the Iberian Peninsula, 2001, p. 69).

(2) “Counting the Founders: The Matrilineal Genetic Ancestry of the Jewish Diaspora.” Online at (or google important words), published April 30, 2008, Doron M. Behar and others. This research project analyzed 1,142 female DNA samples from fourteen different non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities. Two samples from the Spanish-Portuguese Sephardic Diaspora were included (Bulgaria, n=71, and Turkey, n=123), but of special importance to crypto-Judaic studies is the sample of 30 women from Belmonte, Portugal. Of the thirty women, 93.3% (28) were attributed to one founding mother, thereby suggesting that the crypto-Jewish community in Belmonte is “one endogamously expanding family, at least on the maternal side.”

(3) “Crypto-Jews From Tras-os-Montes, Portugal: A History Told by the Y Chromosome.” HaLapid: Journal of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, XVI, 22-31, Spring 2009, Inês Nogueiro, Leonor Gusmão, and António Amorim. This research analyzed DNA samples “from sixty unrelated self-designated Jewish males from several villages” in Tras-os-Montes and also from Belmonte. The researchers found a “rather surprising” degree of diversity for a “demographically small and inbred community,” but the research showed that Jews of Tras-os-Montes are more similar genetically with European and Middle Eastern Jews, particularly Sephardim, than with non-Jewish Portuguese (p. 27).

For a sociological explanation of similarities and differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi genetics, including medical issues, see my article “DNA Origins and Current Consequences for Sephardi, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi Males and Females.” Journal for the Study of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry, 2008-2009, 2, 2, online at — adl"

22 Apr 14

"Welcome to Volume 5 of the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto Jews. Published annually by the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Florida International University, Miami, Florida, U.S.A., JOSPIC-J is a non-profit academic journal whose goal is to encourage and publicize scholarly research about the crypto Jews of Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and their many descendants. We publish peer-reviewed articles and research reports, book reviews, and other academic literature."

22 Apr 14

ScienceDaily: Your source for the latest research news
Featured Research
from universities, journals, and other organizations
Common genetic threads link thousands of years of Jewish ancestry
June 4, 2010
Cell Press
Using sophisticated genomic analysis, scientists have probed the ancestry of several Jewish and non-Jewish populations and better defined the relatedness of contemporary Jewish people. The research may shed light on the question, first raised more than a century ago, of whether Jews are a race, a religious group or something else."
Using sophisticated genomic analysis, scientists have probed the ancestry of several Jewish and non-Jewish populations and better defined the relatedness of contemporary Jewish people. The research, published in the June issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, may shed light on the question, first raised more than a century ago, of whether Jews are a race, a religious group or something else.

The genetic, cultural and religious traditions of contemporary Jewish people originated in the Middle East over three thousand years ago. Since that time, Jewish communities have migrated from the Middle East into Europe, North Africa and across the world. The migration of Jews to new locales is known as the Diaspora. This study shows that although Jewish people experienced genetic mixing with surrounding populations, they retained a genetic coherence along with a religious one.

"Previous genetic studies of blood group and serum markers suggested that Jewish groups had Middle Eastern origin with greater genetic similarity between paired Jewish populations," says senior study author, Dr. Harry Ostrer, professor of pediatrics, pathology and medicine and director of the Human Genetics Program at NYU Langone Medical Center. "More recent studies of Y chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA have pointed to founder effects of both Middle Eastern and local origin, yet, the issue of how to characterize Jewish people as mere coreligionists or as genetic isolates that may be closely or loosely related remained unresolved."

"We have shown that Jewishness can be identified through genetic analysis, so the notion of a Jewish people is plausible. Yet the genomes of the Jewish Diaspora groups have distinctive features that are representative of each group's genetic history," says Dr. Ostrer. "Our study demonstrated that the studied Jewish populations represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters with genetic threads that weave them together," added Dr. Gil Atzmonl assistant professor of medicine and genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, the study's lead author. "These threads were observed as identical strands of DNA that were shared within and between Jewish groups. Thus, over the past 3000 years, both the flow of genes and the flow of religious and cultural ideas have contributed to Jewishness."

22 Apr 14

"Concord, MA (April 21, 2014)—Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House has been honored as a 2014 “Editors’ Choice” winner in Yankee Magazine’s Travel Guide to New England, on newsstands beginning April 29th. "

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